Cervantes, Rimbaud, Chekhov, Yeats

Question of the day: How many writers keep getting better until the end? Or how maybe, how few? You could throw Shakespeare in there, since the Tempest is masterful. Truman Capote and Harper Lee don't count, since Capote could never finish another book after In Cold Blood and Lee could finish only one. Joyce disappeared into Finnegans and never reappeared. Who am I missing?

And I wonder why? Does genius require a physical vigor, or emotional, or both, lost over time?

Sorry, that's three questions.

 

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Jewish And Arab Women Refuse To Be Enemies

The announcement on Facebook read: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” and next to it a call for a demonstration in the Arab Israeli town of Tira. I knew right away that I wanted to go.
 
This morning we gathered,  about 1000 participants, Jews and Arabs, many carried signs in Hebrew and in Arabic. My favorite was one held by a young woman, which said in Hebrew: "Jewish .and Arab women refuse to be enemies." I could sense the good-will and the positive energy all around.
 
The speakers were Jews and Arabs and I appreciated the fact that everyone’s suffering was acknowledged: that of the Palestinians civilians in Gaza whose life is in danger because of the Israeli air raid and that of the Israelis civilians, especially in the south, who suffer the Hamas rockets attacks..
 
In preparation for today’s demonstration I  reread  a small British pamphlet written in 1952 by that period Feminists, in the Conference on The Feminine Point of View.
 
On the topic of “World Peace” the women  claimed:
“It has been  generally believed through the ages that women are more averse to war than men (a view expressed in the Greek play Lysisstrata  over two thousand years ago). Certainly war disrupts the home life which is the woman’s main interest and concern. In so far as women are in general less aggressive than men, more averse to physical violence, and more concerned for the suffering of the individual, there are grounds for hoping that their greater influence would make for world peace in the long run. The monstrous absurdity of modern weapons of obliteration is likely to make an increasing number of women reject war altogether on ground of commonsense as well as mercy.; whereas many men seem to be fascinated by exhibitions of vast power”
In 1952 the conference expressed the hope that  women will  “become better educated politically and more confident in their own point of view, they may be expected to be critical of war propaganda and the claims of national prestige. The tendency of women to be more emotionally disturbed by the idea of war and its horrors may bring about clearer thinking on the whole question of that “inevitable necessity” of war which so many men seem to accept with the kind of mesmerized acquiescence.“
 
In the demonstration today one of the speakers, an Arab woman, talked directly to the women in the audience and said very similar words. She said what all women know (and often say), that not a single woman from Gaza or from Israel is involved in the attacks, but that it is always the women who pay the price for men’s war.

The conference of the Feminine Point of View was seven years after the end of the Second World War. There were hopes for a better future, and fear of the consequences of  the cold war.

 Today more than sixty years, women are "better educated politically," but so far we have not been able to make a real difference, or to promote peace in this area. Publicly not much has changed, most of the politicians are still  men, and  they have no interest in finding a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

 
In the past Israeli mothers were influential in getting the Israeli army out of south Lebanon. The men have failed us, let women have their say. b2ap3_thumbnail_izru.jpg
 
b2ap3_thumbnail_women-refuse.jpg
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A Green Room Full of Hopes

I’d write Green on the whiteboard with a green marker, and wait for the students I’d divided up into groups to brainstorm any English idioms they knew that contained that word.

 

He’s a bit green.

To get the green light.

Green, as in ecology.

Green with envy.

“Beware, my Lord, of jealousy.  ‘Tis the green-eyed monster...”

 

Sometimes, I’d simply ask, “If I say ‘green’, what do you think?”

 

Grass.

Emeralds.

Trees.

Hope.

 

The Green Room in a theatre.  London Fringe Theatre.  Frayed sofas smelling of stale cigarettes and lager.  A Tannoy announcing the Half, Fifteen Minutes and Beginners.  Actors sitting and smoking, doing vocal exercises, complaining about their agents, criticising the director (the one they idolised at the audition but now the critic gave a bad review, well, they really should be at the RSC on on television, instead of Fringe).  Hope for a successful career.

 

The impeccably ironed lawn of a Cambridge college.  Only Fellows are allowed to walk on it.  I walk across the one at King’s, while talking to the Dean.  We’re talking about Dante, and he says he’s going to give me a ticket for the Advent Carol Service.  Hope for academic achievement.

 

The soft, luxuriant green of Grantchester Meadows.  With jet-black crows skipping at the foot of elm trees, swaying in the East Anglian winds.  Hope for peace.

 

My green silk dress I wore on an unforgettable date.  He took me to a Maria Friedman concert at Cadogan Hall.  Sondheim and Bernstein.  Afterwards, we strolled through the winding Chelsea streets.  Hope for true love.

 

A bushy green fir tree, standing by the sash window, decorated in gold and silver baubles, lit up with a criss-crossing string of tiny white lights.  Hope for home and hearth.

 

The glossy green leaves of small lemon plants, grown from pips in pots on my desk during a harsh winter.  Hope for survival.

 

An e-mail from a friend I have yet to meet, telling me about a newly-set up haven for writers recently orphaned of their familiar internet forum.  A red room that provided much warmth and nurture.  She invites me to join a new room, a green room.  I picture a velvet green sofa with soft cushions, a crackling fireplace, the smell of coffee mixed with roasted figs, chocolate fudge cake on the table, a large bay window overlooking a garden with a weeping willow trailing its  mane in a limpid stream.  A group of writers, from different countries, different backgrounds, united in effervescent conversation, discussing every topic under the sun and moon.  Laughter.  Support.  Learning.

 

Hope for friendship.  Hope for writing and reading splendid words.

 

 

Scribe  Doll

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East of the Sun and West of the Moon

As a small child, I lived in a poky cottage opposite a tall red brick wall which formed the curtilage of Georgian rectory, a classical house of pale stone, abandoned and fallen into ruin. The bricks glowed fire-red at sunset and, though pitted here and there, had a sheen you never see in modern buildings. Years of unlit hearths had saplings sprouting from the chimney-pots, as though from the noses of trolls in Norwegian fairy tales. Tattered rooks swooped about them, their cawing a coarse counterpoint to the lazy cooing of pigeons from the nearby woods.


The back and front yards, I was sure, were made of peanut brittle; some kind of pebble-embedded concrete. The back garden was narrow, but long and open to the sky. It was raised above most of the village and looked out upon blue slate, pantile and thatched roofs, all higgledy-piggledy, beyond a walnut orchard. “Your wife, your dog and your walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be,”maintained the owner, whose name I forget. He looked as though he would not have spared the rod on vociferous children. He wore a brown overall, the same colour as the paper bags shops used, and a battered felt hat, not unlike a Quaker's. I've written elsewhere how WWI and WWII set us back decades and the tenor of life in the country still belonged in the Edwardian era, albeit the effects of the Great Exhibition of 1951 were slowly ushering in a new style of living. Children were seen and not heard in company, unless addressed. But, oh, how much you learned from listening and taking stock! Books and the radio were our main indoor entertainment and we didn't think  ourselves deprived. More to the point, we still don't.

The cottage was one in a row of four which flanked a stony hill up to the church where children preferred not to linger but delighted in spinning scary yarns about the gravestones and the haunted vicarage. These were fuelled by the Brothers Grimm and Laboulaye's Fairy Tales. The churchyard path was a short cut to a back lane where the farm was situated which delivered our milk. They ladled it into our cans at the gate from a galvanized churn. On one occasion, when the delivery was late, I went with my Dad to the farm and on the way back through the churchyard meadow, he much impressed me by swinging the can in a circle over his head without spilling any milk. He worked in civil engineering and explained that this was something called centrifugal force. I had no idea what it meant. It seemed like a miracle. So, the far-fetched was a part of who we were.

 

One day, he and I stood on the back doorstep. You could see several miles distance, the horizon clearly showing a buff-gold peak. We lived near the Swithland slate quarries and not far from the Mountsorrel sand and gravel pits. My Dad pointed to the distance: “You see the mountain over there? You were born on the other side of that.” I had visions of being forsaken  naked on a heap of abrasive scree by angels instead of under a gooseberry bush, but it seemed evidence of a realm of wonder out there, where I might one day belong. The mountain is long gone now, dispersed in the building of motorways which radiate like wheel-spokes from the heart of the Midlands.


The vegetable patch at the far end of our garden seemed nothing but a white butterfly nursery and was approached by a mossy path, on one side apple, pear and damson trees, on the other, a clump of soft fruit bushes. I remember being fascinated by the veined peridot of whiskery gooseberries against the light, the redcurrants like bubbles of ruby and blackcurrants like Pooh Bear's eyes. I remember the drone of wasps sinking mandibles into the overripe plums and the thrushes dizzy with fermenting juice in the autumn. The birds loved our yew berries, too, which made the slate steps into the lane purple-stained and slippery with their viscous golden seeds popping from the red flesh like pimento-stuffed olives. The intricate, somehow prehistoric, design of a bright green grasshopper was fascinating when it landed on your arm. One of the earliest poems I learned to chant was by Ada Skinner from one of her books of Children's Verse, now revived by the Baldwin Project:

 

Grasshopper Green is a comical chap;

 

He lives on the best of fare.

 

Bright little trousers, jacket and cap,

 

These are his summer wear.

 

Out in the meadow he loves to go,

 

Playing away in the sun;

 

Its hopperty, skipperty, high and low—

 

Summer's the time for fun.

 

 

When I knee-high to aforesaid grasshopper, Dad would read from Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. Despite the illustrations being mostly only pen and ink, they were evocative of an underwater world and of the strange characteristic striated rock of the North Devon coast from where the author and many of our ancestors hailed.


My world was in miniature, a lot more so than a child's world today. But my destiny beckoned and I never doubted that there was a road out to the wide blue yonder. The children's literature of the day inspired an expectation of it. After all, a repeated phrase (usually referring to a man, it is true) was 'and set out to seek his fortune'. Even then, I grasped that fortune did not necessarily equate with money. There was a unique way of being to be discovered that would enlarge each of us and enrich the world. 



Laboulaye's Fairy Tales
(Of All Nations) whose illustrator was Arthur A Dixon, was spell-binding. If any should doubt that the timeless narrative tale is a lost art, take a look between these pages if you get a chance. Among those I liked best was The Twelve Months. It was the story of two sisters, Katinka and Dobrunka. Katinka determined upon a life of luxury and made demands upon her longsuffering sister to obtain from the twelve months, who manifest in human form, all her whims and wants. In the end, the hardworking Dobrunka gained happiness at the expense of her lazy sibling. It was a Russian tale. There was no notion of 'politically correct' in those days. Most stories were what we would now regard as propagandist, though it was sound enough everyday morality.

 


Other favourites were Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, The Magic Tinder Box, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel. But, perhaps, the best-loved was Hans Andersen's The Ugly Duckling and I would get my Dad to read it over and over again. It made me cry and filled me with hope all at the same time. Justice was served and there was evidence of order and balance in the cosmos.


 

These books had the most wonderfully atmospheric drawings and I particularly loved the mythical world translated by the Art Nouveau era. I might mention Arthur Ransome, Kate Greenaway and Mabel Lucie Attwell as original illustrators, but my supreme favourite has to be the Danish artist, Kay Nielsen, whose images reign on this page. His artwork appeared in books of collected fables from a diverse range of cultures. One such is the volume of Norwegian folk tales entitled East of the Sun and West of the Moon, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1914 and revived in 1976. Nielsen's oeuvre is full of strange attenuated lines consistent with tall stories, and beguiling curlicues. The grotesque becomes pantomime and the masque a venue for hinting at clandestine truth. His fabulous dreamscape world describes what we cannot articulate in words and resonates deep in the psyche. It is an enchanted dominion where Good and Evil draw swords. It is tinctured with pain and resolution, warning and bliss, and fosters the Hope that is a prelude to renaissance.

 

Maybe, I have Viking ancestors. My Dad always said so. And the chances in these Isles are somewhat above odds on!

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Latest Comments

Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
19 February 2018
High praise! Thank you.
Katherine Gregor A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
18 February 2018
Beckett would be envious.
Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
05 February 2018
I just realized that the last two posts were plays. How true to the spirit of The Green Room!
Rosy Cole A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
04 February 2018
Interesting dynamic. Reflects the popular conception of 'democracy'. (Look at it this way, the US is...
Ken Hartke Flipping the Omelet
01 February 2018
One word: Fritatta

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